Friday, October 16, 2009

Prison report: Addiction behind bars

By Just A Guy
Editors note: Just A Guy is an inmate in a California state prison. His blogs run twice a week.

Something I’ve neglected to talk about at length since my blog began back in April is addiction in prison.

Obviously, a very large percentage of us in prison are here for things that ultimately were related to drugs. From possession to robbery to murder, in one way shape or form, 90 percent of us committed our crimes while on drugs or alcohol, while trying to get drugs or alcohol, or pursing the “rewards” of selling drugs and hurting people in that pursuit.

I’ve blogged about cell phones, specifically twice, and have touched on that subject numerous times, but I’ve not really dug into the drug problem.

I guess to some degree I was caught up in the heart of the “cell phone wars” from an inmates point of view, but the cell phone dilemma has done an excellent job of overshadowing what I perceive to be a much bigger threat to public safety — drug and alcohol addiction in prison.

In my defense, it’s easy to get caught up in the cell phone question because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s rationale is ludicrous in light of the problems caused by addiction and drugs in prison. It’s almost as if they’re using cell phones to take our attention away from the real problem.

First of all, drugs in prison are quite plentiful and easy to get, and cause a whole host of problems, from gang trouble to debt trouble to race trouble — not to mention the spread of disease. (I had never seen heroin until I went to prison.)

Drugs are expensive in prison, but sometimes the supply exceeds the demand and prices drop dramatically. The demand in prison is really dictated by a user’s ability to pay, and suffice it to say there are not a lot of guys in prison with money to burn.

Most often, drugs in prison are purchased by the users friends , family and loved ones by sending money to the dealer’s point of contact via wire transfer (Western Union or Moneygram). There are people that will sell drugs for canteen, or allow the money to be mailed, but the method of choice is wire transfer. (Would you want to give some guy in prison your family’s address to mail money to?)

The units of measure are generally $50 or $100 pieces; out of a gram of heroin, a dealer would get approx six $100 pieces. The cost of a gram wholesale in prison ranges from $150 to $200, but a gram on the streets costs about $20.

Heroin is the drug of choice in prison, with speed and weed following a close second. Speed costs more on the street but less than heroin in prison; a gram of speed in prison has about four $100 pieces in it and costs $60 – $80 a gram on the streets.

As you can see, the profit margins are huge with, honestly, negligible risks — because the people in administration don’t focus on drugs. They focus on cell phones

I am consistently amazed at the number of high people around me all the time. It’s very annoying, because you can’t get away from them; they are there, around you, 24/7/365. Sometimes it feels like you’re locked in a room with a bunch of drunk people, and you’re the only sober one. And if you know what it’s like being around drunks when you’re sober …. well, just imagine it for a moment.

I don’t know what it’s like at all prisons, and can’t say that the drugs are as plentiful in other places, but I suspect that any prison near a metropolitan area has similar issues.

I can’t help but wonder what is a greater threat to public safety — drug addiction or cell phones in prison. Duh.! No, I am not serious — of course it’s cell phones, right CDCR and CCPOA?

I wonder what’s a greater risk to public safety — someone guy escaping, or releasing five heroin addicts who have received no treatment and are nursing a habit on their release date.

Wait, wait, wait — I need to calm down …. Phew, heart’s beating a little slower now. Okay, I see — the cell phones are a greater risk to officer safety than drugs, right? Hmmm … I wonder how many race riots have been caused by cell phones, and how many officers have been hurt in those riots.

What about the risks to public safety by needle sharing? I mean, it’s not like we have a needle exchange in prison. And God knows how many people are sharing the same needle.

Look, they use clear bic pens and the rubber suction part of an eye dropper to make syringes. Imagine the sterility of a needle melted into a clear bic pen and shared. These are called “dinkys,” it’s truly fucking archaic.

Oh yeah, by the way — it’s very hard to get bleach. You get the point? (No pun intended.)

So, a guy comes into prison, gets hepatitis or AIDS, gets out and spreads it to the general population through continued drug use or sex with someone who like “bad boys.” Yeah, let’s talk about public safety.

Understand this; we inmates are indescribably stupid at times. Many of us continue to harm ourselves through drug use in prison, or prison politics, or myriad other ways that certainly doesn't serve to better ourselves. These are choices we make –we can’t blame anyone, there’s nobody who forced us to do these things. But there is a responsibility somewhere to make tools available to give inmates a wider array of options, or at least a direction of some sort. Someone must step up and focus on where the real problem is, and it’ ain’t cell phones.

I just walked around my entire building and looked at every memo, every bulletin, every sign up sheet, every poster, and found NOT ONE THING about recovery. Seriously, not one. This building houses 260 people or so, of whom easily 200 have had some sort of drug or alcohol problem. Crazy.

In prison, we have one AA/NA meeting per week. That is the ONLY program we have available to us for the treatment of addiction that you don’t have to meet criteria for to get in. And you have to sign up for what is supposed to be an anonymous meeting. CDCR? What “R?”

Sometimes you have to really know and understand that help is available in order to seek help.

Keepin it real, sober for two years, 10 months and 15 days, JAG.

Source: SFBG

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grisham To Lead Prison Reform Discussion In Va.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) ― Best-selling author John Grisham will lead a panel discussion in Virginia about the state of the nation's prison system."Incarceration Nation" will focus on the prison reform movement. It also will include an episode of the documentary "30 Days" featuring filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s month in jail.The Oct. 19 event in Charlottesville is a fundraiser for Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to low-income people.Last year's event raised more than $150,000.Legal Aid Executive Director Alex Gulotta said this year's topic was inspired in part by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb. The senator wants to create an 18-month review of the criminal justice system through the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009.___On the Net:

Substance-abuse treatment at Donovan becomes a victim of state budget cuts

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, Mark Faucette, vice president of the Amity Foundation, a nonprofit substance-abuse-treatment provider, will be at Donovan State Prison in Otay Mesa, saying goodbye to the roughly 500 inmates currently enrolled in Amity’s Right Turn program. The highly regarded program, held up as a national model for effective prisoner rehabilitation, is being closed down, a casualty of state budget cuts.

Last week, Elias Contreras, the prison’s associate warden, told a KPBS reporter that Right Turn would be replaced with a 90-day detox program. That’s actually not the case: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Peggy Bengs confirmed for CityBeat on Tuesday that Donovan is one of eight prisons statewide that won’t provide any sort of professional in-custody substance-abuse treatment. Rather, those facilities will rely entirely on outside volunteers from programs like Narcotics Anonymous and inmates who’ve been trained as substance-abuse counselors.

Not only are in-custody treatment programs being cut—so, too, is funding for residential aftercare programs like Amity’s 50-bed Vista Ranch, where just-released inmates can spend up to six months getting their lives together.

“We already don’t have enough treatment beds and services in the community,” Faucette said. “But with this kind of situation and with these closures happening, it’s going to be pretty difficult.”

Faucette said he’s been inundated with calls from people who want to make sure they’ll have a bed when they get out of prison.

According to numbers provided by CDCR, in July 2009 the state was funding 8,162 post-release residential treatment slots, serving an estimated 17,063 parolees a year. Plans are to reduce that number by half, to 4,000 treatment slots serving an estimated 8,308 parolees.
The cuts are part of a $1.2-billion reduction in CDCR’s overall $10-billion budget. A total of $250 million is being cut from programs that focus on adult prisoner rehabilitation.

To cope with the cuts, Bengs said CDCR is moving ahead with what she described as a “streamlined rehabilitation model.”

“We’re trying to identify inmates much more carefully and trying to target our resources more effectively,” she said. But, she added, “everyone wishes we still had our former budget.”

The irony of the cuts is that last week CDCR released a report showing that in-custody substance-abuse treatment significantly reduces prisoner recidivism, which, in California, hovers around 60 percent. Chronic recidivism is one of the reasons the state’s prison population has increased by 73 percent in the last two decades and partially why state prison spending has more than doubled since 2001. Drug use is cited as a main reason people land back in prison. A 2007 report by the Little Hoover Commission found that roughly two-thirds of prison inmates would benefit from substance-abuse treatment, but, at that point, only about 2 percent were receiving it. With the recent budget cuts, one-half of 1 percent of state prison inmates will have access to treatment.

The state needs to find a way to keep people from returning to prison, and fast. In August, a panel of federal judges ruled that by 2011, California must reduce its prison population to 110,000 inmates—40,000 fewer than the current population and 30,000 more than the system’s designed to hold.

A 1999 study, published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior, showed that among inmates who completed Amity’s Right Turn program, including the aftercare portion, only 14 percent ended up back in prison after two years. And, researchers found, “Positive program benefits were also found even for inmates who were ultimately reincarcerated.”

“It’s not a drug program,” Faucette said. “It’s not, like, ‘Here’s what drugs do to your brain.’ They’re learning about a lot of issues in terms of family, in terms of building community with each other, and when they leave prison, there’s a lot of focus on that, too. It’s not just about you taking care of yourself and being at some parolee flophouse. We’re dealing with these issues, like racism and prejudice and all of these things that are magnified in the prison system…. We don’t want that kind of culture brought into our communities.”

Dennis Malone, whom CityBeat featured in a 2007 story on prison reform, participated in—and later worked as a counselor for—the Amity program.

“Most people who went through the Amity program, they either stayed out a whole lot longer than most people or they really never went back,” Malone said. “The success rate was really off the charts. That’s why it’s unfortunate that those who control the money aren’t seeing that—they’re not seeing the great need to have programs that assist folks when they hit the street.”
The loss of the Amity program will affect SB 618, 2006 legislation that carved out funding for a pilot program at Donovan that focuses on helping inmates transition from prison to the community. The program is run out of the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.

“Studies show that inmates are far more likely to succeed if they receive treatment in prison with an aftercare component in the community,” said DA spokesperson Steve Walker. “There was a time when Amity was closed down for a while at [Donovan] and we were having a tougher time with our participants released in the community at that time because they weren’t treatment-oriented.”

A second piece of legislation aimed at curbing recidivism, SB 1453, is also being affected by budget cuts. Previously, inmates who enrolled in SB 1453 received in-custody treatment and were mandated, as a condition of parole, to follow up with residential aftercare. Parolees who completed five months of aftercare were discharged from parole. If aftercare ceases to be mandatory, said Alan Mobley, professor of criminal justice at San Diego State University, program participants are less likely to enroll.

“They [CDCR] know that the numbers of aftercare folks will drop in half when they make it voluntary,” Mobley said.

Aaron Edwards, a budget analyst focusing on criminal justice for the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, said the cuts CDCR is making now could have long-term consequences.

“Community treatment beds are comparatively much cheaper than the $50,000 a year cost of incarcerating parolees who are returned to prison,” Edwards said. “By drastically reducing the availability of community-based treatment for parolees, we run the risk of increasing correctional costs in the long run.”
Source: San Diego City Beat